from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Facing Reality on Climate Politics

October 19, 2010

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

NRDC is touting a new poll that claims to show how having voted for cap-and-trade is actually good for House members in competitive races. It’s getting picked up pretty widely. But it’s fundamentally silly.

Why? Take a look at one of the state-specific polls, which gives you some insight into how the questions were asked. The poll never mentions cap-and-trade, which has become (undeservedly) toxic. Respondents are asked whether they support a bill that “will create millions of new jobs, reduce our use of foreign oil, hold corporate polluters accountable and cut the pollution that causes climate change.” Who the heck wouldn’t? Especially when the opponents’ best argument is presented as “the bill will cost companies money”, rather than “the bill will cost you money”. Frankly, I’m kind of shocked that a decent percentage of respondents oppose a bill that’s presented in such a one-sided manner (and after a series of warm-up questions designed to get people thinking about how important clean energy is, by the way). That suggests that supporters of a climate bill, even if it isn’t cap-and-trade, have an enormous way to go.

Perhaps I should be charitable: the point of these sorts of polls is often to convince politicians that they can talk about (in this case) clean energy without losing votes. But I’ve talked to too many smart people who actually believe that these polls show that people support cap-and-trade to think that they’re so harmless.

If political action groups want to move something like cap-and-trade forward, they need (at a minimum) to poll test messages that will be robust in a world where their opponents actually exist, and in which those opponents aren’t stupid. This sort of poll doesn’t come close.

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